“You will decide what Ireland will be.’” ~ Pope St. John Paul II
In 1979, Pope John Paul II gazed out over a sea of some 300,000 youth at a Mass for the Youth in Galway, Ireland. “When I look at you,” he said, “I see the Ireland of the future. Tomorrow, you will be the living force of your country; you will decide what Ireland will be.” Alas, that very generation, and the generation of children that they have since raised, just decided what Ireland’s future will be. One can only imagine that sainted pope’s grief, were he physically here with us to witness what the Irish people decided this past May 25th.
It is strange…it is very, very strange, is it not, to see the photographs and videos of crowds of young Irish people dancing and shouting and weeping tears of joy – joy! – because the Irish people have done a deed that no other country, even the most liberal and corrupt, has done: they have voted by overwhelming popular majority to permit the slaughter of their unborn brothers and sisters.
In Ireland 64% of those registered to vote showed up to the polls on the day of the referendum. And of those a distressing 66% voted to repeal the constitutional amendment (84% of those 18-24 years old voted yes) that protects the right to life of the unborn – almost the exact same proportion that voted just over three decades ago to pass Amendment 8 in the first place. So much has changed, and so fast!
Of course, I had my forebodings. Ireland, for all its Catholic history and conversion by St. Patrick, is not immune to the ubiquitous power of popular culture, and the allure of the new ideology of radical personal freedom and sexual autonomy that has swept the West. Many of the warning signs were there, including the recent legalization of divorce and same-sex “marriage.” But neither I – nor anybody else, it seems – expected that there would be such an overwhelming and decisive defeat for the unborn.
St. John Paul II’s Prophetic Warning to Ireland
But perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised. St. Pope John Paul II prophesied this. All of it.
In that same homily quoted above, the Pope laid out, in excruciating detail, precisely what would happen if Ireland abandoned Christ and its Christian roots.
The pope warned the youth that “the religious and moral traditions of Ireland, the very soul of Ireland, will be challenged by the temptations that spare no society in our age.” The youth would be told, he said, that “changes must be made” that they must have “more freedom,” that they should be “different” from their parents, “and that the decisions about your lives depend on you, and you alone.”
Many of those standing before him, he said, would be tempted to abandon Christ, despite their Christian upbringing, family, and culture. However, he warned, “A society that, in this way, has lost its higher religious and moral principles will become an easy prey for manipulation and for domination by the forces which, under the pretext of greater freedom, will enslave it ever more.”
Indeed, the pope even predicted that in Ireland’s future, this attack would focus itself especially on the realm of sexuality. “The lure of pleasure, to be had whenever and wherever it can be found, will be strong and it may be presented to you as part of progress towards greater autonomy and freedom from rules.” This temptation will come especially from “mass media,” which will present a worldview in which “it is every man for himself, and where the unrestrained affirmation of self leaves no room for concern for others.”
This, indeed, is the lesson that untold hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Irish unborn babies will learn in the coming years.
In his homily, the pope also included a phrase that is chilling, given what has happened since. Speaking of the temptation to walk away from Christ, the pope said that “this can happen especially if you see the contradiction in the life of some of your fellowmen between the faith they profess and their way of living.”
I wonder, did the pope know how prophetic those words would turn out to be? Many people have noted that the Catholic Church played a surprisingly minor role in the debate over Amendment 8. “The Church, with the exception of a sprinkling of pastorals, was tactically absent,” notes Irish commentator John Waters over at First Things. The reason why is no secret. In recent years, the Church’s moral credibility has cratered. Revelations of physical and sexual abuse at Church-run institutions, and cover-ups, have catastrophically undermined the Church’s ability to say anything about moral matters; the media is always ready in such cases to hurl the Church’s own failings back in its face.
But that still doesn’t entirely explain the conspicuous absence of many pastors from the fight for life. “What was unforgivable was that this silence extended to pulpits,” said Waters. But then again, John Paul had also predicted this sad betrayal. He noted that among the many people who would tell the youth that their religious beliefs were “hopelessly out of date, that they hamper your style and your future” would be “even many religious persons” – even, I suppose the pope knew, some priests and bishops.
A Simple Remedy
The pope’s homily was not all doom and gloom for Ireland’s future. The messages of the great prophets never are, even if they are unrelentingly stark in their diagnoses.
In the face of all the forces arrayed against the Gospel, and the “moral sickness” that “stalks” Irish society, the youth must turn to the only source of authentic joy: Christ. “In Christ you will discover the true greatness of your own humanity,” the pope exhorted. “Christ has the answers to your questions and the key to history; he has the power to uplift hearts. He keeps calling you, he keeps inviting you, he who is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life.’” Though the call of Christ is “demanding,” said the pope, youth ought not to be afraid, for it is “only with Him your life will be meaningful and worthwhile.”
A simple message. But what else is there?
For the pro-life Irish, who poured out their sweat and tears in vain to defend the unborn, and who must now live in a country that is morally alien to them, what else is there but Christ? For those of us outside Ireland who fought, and fasted, and prayed for Ireland, and looked to Ireland to continue acting as a beacon of light and hope in the West, what else is there but Christ?
The forces of the world are strong. For today, they have prevailed. And yet the pope also had a message for those of us who may feel that “before the experiences of history and before concrete situations, love has lost its power and that it is impossible to practise it.” It is not so, said that great saint. For, in the long run, “love always brings victory, love is never defeated.”
For pro-life Ireland, May 25th was a dark, dark day. The darkest of days. But love lives on. Pro-lifers must now adapt to the new regime and find new ways to express that love in Ireland’s future. Continue to fight for pro-life laws – of course! Fight tooth and nail. But they must also find new and creative ways to bring love to the hopeless women and men who will soon begin seeking for false “solutions” in Ireland’s abortion mills. Love them and love their child. Many lives will be saved this way, as they have been saved elsewhere.
“Let us place this intention,” concluded the Pope, after asking that the Irish would continue to listen to the message of the Gospel, “at the feet of Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Ireland, example of generous love and dedication to the service of others.” This was the best course then, and it is the best course for us now.
Our Lady of Knock, Pray for us! Pray for Ireland!